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Breeders' Cup 2017
HRN Original Blog:
TimeformUS's Blog

How Pace has Played a Role in Breeders' Cup Preps

Blame Zenyatta 615 X 400
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

NOTE - This blog post references TimeformUS Pace Figures. These Pace Figures are combined with final times to create TimeformUS Speed Figures. Stand-alone Pace Figures will be added to TimeformUS PPs later this fall. 

"Pace makes the race" is an old and famous adage. It is a horse racing truth across virtually all distances, surfaces, and class levels. 

Pace dynamics certainly played a huge role in the outcome of this year's Kentucky Derby. Wearing blinkers for the first time, Palace Malice did his best Silence Suzuka impersonation and ran off with Mike Smith through unbelievably fast fractions, easily outsprinting expected pace-setter Goldencents and all the rest. 

Thoroughbreds are high-strung, competitive animals, and when one unexpectedly goes out winging, it will often key up the other speed and stalking types, and they usually get sucked right along--chasing a pace that is so fast it eventually kills off all who get near it. 

Obviously, that was the case in the Derby. The TimeformUS pace figures for that race came back unbelievably fast. Palace Malice, who set all the fractions, faded to finish twelfth, beaten 13.5 lengths. Oxbow, who was positioned a clear second after six furlongs, faded to 6th, beaten almost ten lengths. Verrazano, positioned a clear third early, faded to 14th. Expected pace-setter Goldencents faded so badly that he was beaten almost 50 lengths. 

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This year's Derby was a classic example of a "pace meltdown." Of course, Oxbow came right back to win the Preakness at 15/1 odds. Palace Malice came right back to win the Belmont Stakes at 13/1 odds. Verrazano came back to win the Grade 1 Haskell by almost 10 lengths.

Meanwhile, Orb has failed to finish first or second in any of his four races since the Derby. Golden Soul, the Kentucky Derby second-place finisher, hasn't finished better than 7th in any of his four starts since the Derby. The harsh reality is that Orb and Golden Soul are one-dimensional closers who benefited from a pace collapse in the Derby.  You're free to knock Palace Malice, Oxbow, and Verrazano all you want, but they've all returned to win major Grade 1 races after stopping in the stretch of the Derby.

Plainly, extremely slow-paced races also cause fluky results. Think of the prep races leading up to the famous 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic

Zenyatta, the even-money favorite in the 2010 Classic, had prepped in extremely slow-paced races. In the Clement L. Hirsch, Rinterva owned an uncontested early lead through brutally slow fractions of 25 and change, 50 and change, and 1:15 flat.

Zenyatta was a deep closer with a one-dimensional running style. Mike Smith asked her to move much sooner than usual in that race, and he kept her busy with a right-handed whip through the stretch run, and yet Zenyatta's margin of victory over the wildly inferior Rinterval was just a neck in the end.

Rinterval was a horse who won only three of 25 lifetime starts. Her most dubious win came at Presque Isle Downs less than a year earlier, when she was dusted by a cheap local horse named Happy Wac, only to be awarded the win via disqualification.

That same year, stretch runners Blame and Fly Down were victimized by the speedy New York-bred Haynesfield in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Haynesfield was allowed an easy early lead through soft fractions, and he won the Jockey Club Gold Cup by 4 lengths despite being eased up by Ramon Dominguez. 

There was no slow pace in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic, however. First Dude unexpectedly ran off to the lead. Haynesfield and Quality Road chased the hot pace, and the Japanese speedball Espoir City put that trio away and led on the far turn.

Eventually, all of the speed collapsed, including Japan's Espoir City, and along came the closers who had been victimized by slow paces in recent preps: Blame, Zenyatta, and Fly Down. 

Without any further ado, here are some 2013 Breeders' Cup prep races that were impacted by extreme paces. 

* The Iroquois was run September 7th at Churchill Downs at a viciously fast early pace.  The opening quarter mile was run with a pace figure of 145. The half was run with a pace figure of 131. The six furlongs was run with a pace figure of  108.  The final-time figure was just 80.

The horse who ran the most impressive race was eventual fourth-place finisher Ride On Curlin. He was hung out four wide on both turns while chasing that wickedly fast pace and unquestionably ran the best race of any horse in the field.

The eventual winner, Cleburne, benefited from the hot pace and rallied to victory. He will be a bet-against in the Breeders' Cup, since trainer Dale Romans says he intends to start him there. The second-place finisher, Smart Cover, is also a bet-against when he runs back.

* The Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park on September 28th was run with an extremely slow pace. Front-running Graydar was allowed an uncontested lead through soft fractions. The TimeformUS Pace Figures were 74 for the opening quarter mile, 83 for the half mile, and 106 for six furlongs. The final-time figure was 124.

Not only did Graydar get away with murder from a pace standpoint, but he also was positioned on a very good rail path that propelled to victory several other horses on this card, including Ron The Greek. Graydar is a bet against in the Breeders' Cup.

* The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont on September 28th was run with a very hot pace. The pace figures were 131 for a quarter mile, 131 for a half mile, and 133 for six furlongs. The final-time figure was 117. 

Give Little Mike all the credit for relaxing behind that hot pace and out-finishing all of the closers. He was a very game winner and has a huge chance to repeat in the Breeders' Cup Turf if he's able to reproduce this outstanding performance.

* The Rodeo Drive on September 28th at Santa Anita was run at a slow pace. The pace figures were 66 for a quarter, 81 for a half, and 81 for three quarters, and they were run by a 28/1 longshot who eventually finished third beaten less than a length. Tiz Flirtatious closed against the grain of the fractions and was sensational in victory. She is very dangerous in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

* The Frizette at Belmont Park on October 5th was run at an extremely slow pace. The pace figures were 74 for the opening quarter mile,  80 for a half mile, and 88 for six furlongs, and the final-time figure was  101. 

Not only did eventual second-place finisher Sweet Reason have a very poor start, but she also was victimized by the very slow pace. She ran extraordinarily well in defeat and is the horse you'd want out of this race on Breeders' Cup day. 

* The Champagne at Belmont on October 5th was run with a very hot pace. The pace figures were 128 for a quarter,  126 for a half, and 117 for six furlongs, and the final-time figure was 106.

Eventual winner Havana ran his guts out. He stalked the accomplished pace-setter Debt Ceiling, who couldn't survive the pace and stopped to a walk in the stretch. Deep closers Honor Code and Ride on Curlin both made excellent closing runs in the stretch, but they were aided by the hot pace. Havana is a huge threat in the BC Juvenile.

* The City of Hope Mile was run at Santa Anita on October 5th, and the pace was blistering. The pace figure for the opening quarter was a scorching 156, for a half mile it was 145, and for six furlongs it was 131. The final-time figure was just 117. 

The heavy favorite, Obviously, finished fourth at odds of 1/2, but he did so after stalking that blistering pace and making a premature move to the lead. Look for Obviously to revert to his good form. He's certainly the horse you want out of this race in the Breeders' Cup Mile.


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Older Comments about How Pace has Played a Role in Breeders' Cup Preps...

Hi buds, it is a relative thing. Both the Santa Anita main track and turf course are generally very fast surfaces. Just because the raw fractions are fast, doesn't mean the pace is fast. Quite a few Breeders Cup races last year were run with slow early-fast late race shapes, from a figure standpoint. As for the approach in general, take the Iroquois, for instance. It was run extremely fast early and very slow late. From a handicapping and betting standpoint, Ride On Curlin was much the best that day even though he finished 4th. He was caught 4-wide throughout while chasing that blistering pace. Cleburne and Smart Cover both relaxed from behind the hot pace and finished 1st and 2nd by merely passing a bunch of tired horses who stopped sharply in front of them.
  • travel_vic · Enerby distribution will tell how any particular animal is going to be able to run, or not, at Anita, which usually runs early/presser · 1462 days ago
Thanks TM, good to know, Brisnet is always on top of it
  • travel_vic · simple, find the FULCRUM pace of race of this field. WHICH horse promped it, maintained after the challenge of it...Was this an isolated event or did the animal go after it twice? If so that is the fulcrom pace of race you comare the field to...Can't keep up earrly?? You are OUT · 1462 days ago
TM, I'm curious as to where you're going to get those desperately needed 2/5 of a second at the second call? Make no mistake, he, GOD has less chance this year than last. The only way he can finish in the money IMO is if MMM scratches. Even though I doubt MMM will win, his pace will put GOD away. It's probable four horses will leave the gate faster than GOD, two of those will hit the 3/4s faster, I just don't see a win or money finish with both MMM Fort Larned in the race. For GOD to finish in the money one of the aforementioned horses has to falter, namely MMM who will be running along side him. Just so you know where I'm coming from GOD is a favorite of mine, the most predictable horse to ever set foot on a track. He always runs the same race, anyone who hasn't made money wagering on him whether for or against is hard to imagine. Even if Baffert works him to the point he does get the second call fractions, he's then in the position he was last year, over extended and unable to finish in the money. For GOD to win he has to hit the second call in 1:10.3/5,and have enough energy left to not falter, besides that Mike Smith is a definite bet against all day long, this isn't the early 90s.
  • travel_vic · Look at MOST races, a length lost or gained EARLY can be worthy of 3 to 4 times that disance late as lactic acid build up makes them IMPOSSIBLE to retrieve againa. The MOST variable fraction (of any note outside of the name Need to leds that have already spit the bnit between the gate and the 2nd call) of NOTE is the 2nd call. This is whcy Micheal Piozzola calld it the pivot for the entire pace to rotate around. · 1462 days ago
Icy,that is Bullet Bobs worry,the reason i am so on board with him,is how he is finally handled.The days are gone where they emptied his tank in worthless races.You saw the monster that ran in the Pacific Classic off of a layoff.The 2 months off will make him that much better.If all i have to worry about is 2.5 ths of a second.Maybe i will take Lisas adviceshe gave me for Noble Moons debut. I shall seek out loan officers. I go into the races assuming they will all run their best,except for horses like MMM and Ron The Greek,who emptied their tanks in the preps.That being the case.For right or wrong.This in my eyes might be over when the Marshall in the paddock says "Riders Up'
the problem with all of these assessments is that they fail to mention the role that adjuncts have played in these races--orb is the only horse who has run adjunct free in every race all year. the only race in which the other three year olds ran adjunct free was the derby, because they were forced to--anyone who doesn't think that made a difference, as large if not larger to pace and track condition, is a fool with his head in the sand. the second point is that discounting a win based on running style is unfair--closers benefit from pace melt downs, but front runners benefit from not having to choke on dirt and avoiding traffic problems. it's a 6 of 1, half dozen of another. as for the JCGC, the biggest factor in that race wasn't pace, it was that 90% of the field stumbled at the start and the only 2 horses that didn't finished 1-2. the thing about those who say verrazno is underestimated it that he has been touted in every race, but when going long and facing quality horses he has folded every time--the excuse of the a wet track and a crazy fast 3/4 in the derby was disproved in the travers, which was a slow race on a fast track. that isn't underestimating, it's accepting reality--the funny thing is that the same people who keep saying verrazano is underestimated, say that orb is all hype. my own take on orb is that from january to may his races were spaced 5-6 weeks apart--for a horse racing on lasix without the aid of adjuncts, that probably is crucial. i would have skipped the travers all together and have targeted the whitney at 9f and the then JCGC at 10, 6 weeks later--the result may have been the same given the bad start (and since 90% of the field stumbled, that suggests the track was garbage that day), but may not have been. i also would have brought him back to track training from fair hill about 3 weeks before the whitney and kept him at belmont for the JCGC. every one of shug's horses that was at fair hill has been short--maybe the fair hill track is not challenging enough to provide proper conditioning. payson, were orb trained all spring before shipping to churchill, is a deep tiring track--it builds fitness. shug seems to have given up on fair hill. orb is still at belmont and is training there. he worked a 49.77 4f today
Buds,between their product and the toro-graph sheets.Only tools i use.Let me not omit information.I am looking at this years Cup as selective playing and go for the kill when i see the opportunity. In the Classic,i have basically cut it down to Game On Dude as the likeliest of winners. I will use Flat Out and Declaration of War(if he runs.only on my high respect for the Trainer).The rest of the field,i would not bet them if Amino wrote me out a check for $5.000. 00 to play them.Don't get me wrong.I would cash the check and pocket it.Just would not waste the money betting them.Good luck in the Cup races.
Kudos to the author- nice article. Love the take on the derby although I still love orb and think he's a quality horse. I do however think people underestimate oxbow and Verrazano. I agree with the rest- but I do think honor code is good enough to be able to put horses away fast pace or not
It will be really interesting to see how the pace in this year's Classic will pan out. Will the Dude, Fort Larned, and Palace Malice end up in a speed duel? I can also see Royal Delta and Beholder dueling for the lead in the Distaff. Santa Anita is normally a fast track that is not kind to closers, but the possibility of hot paces in this year's BC races should work in the favor of the closers.
Buds,i do not know if you have access to Brisnet or if you ever use their products.They have up already ,all of the PPs' updated to the present on their site.
I understand, that makes sense but without having the PP's from the juvinile race infront of me. I would guess most juvi reaces in the BC are ran with fast early fractions. There are always a horse or 2 that think they can wire the field at 8.5 F. Most of these horse die out in the home stretch. So Im looking for horses that have pressed the leaders in a fast pace race then hed the energy to come home in a fast last fraction. Unless there are several runers that I think will take the lead and tire each other out, then I look for a closer. Lastly what if theyre is a horse that say has won wiring a fast paced mile prep, I might take him if I feel he can make the extra 1/2 furlong. I guess what I m saying is its hard to toss horses on prep races before we know what the actual field looks like for the BC.
Good article, but Im not sure how a win in a fast paced race is a negitive. Mosot of the BC races at SA are fast paced, so wouldnt perfoming well in these be benifitial?
Nice article Doug. Whoever coined the phrase, "Pace Makes The Race" is/was a wise man/woman. Now some idiot will post, "Andy Beyer did." NOT!
Doug, thanks for the BC Horses to Watch and not Watch List!
There was another horse that ran very first on Derby Day early and that was Silver Max. He quit that day to finish 4th, but has been very good of late.

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